Tag Archives: bigotry

Worse Than We Could Imagine

Apology: yesterday, I accidentally pre-posted an upcoming entry. If you got an email before I could correct it, I apologize for cluttering up your inbox!

The more we learn about Robert Mercer, the worse he looks.

Open Secrets recently published a description of messages that a Mercer organization sent through Facebook and Google to influence the November 2016 elections, and they are despicable–not just because they helped elect Donald Trump, but because they fed the tribalism that is tearing at the American fabric.

As the final weeks of the 2016 elections ticked down, voters in swing states like Nevada and North Carolina began seeing eerie promotional travel ads as they scrolled through their Facebook feeds or clicked through Google sites.

In one, a woman with a French accent cheerfully welcomes visitors to the “Islamic State of France,” where “under Sharia law,  you can enjoy everything the Islamic State of France has to offer, as long as you follow the rules.”

The video has a Man in the High Tower feel. Iconic French tourist sites are both familiar and transformed — the Eiffel Tower is capped with a star and crescent and the spires of the Notre Dame are replaced with the domed qubbaof a mosque.

The Mona Lisa is shown looking, the ad says, “as a woman should,” covered in a burka.

If it wasn’t already clear that the ad was meant to stoke viewers’ fears of imminent Muslim conquest, the video is interspersed with violent imagery. Three missiles are seen flying through the sky as the video opens. Blindfolded men are shown kneeling with guns pointed at their heads, and children are shown training with weapons “to defend the caliphate.”

This was only one of three supposed travel ads. Just a few days before the election, another “travel promo” showed Syrian refugees ruling America. The ad changed the iconic Hollywood sign to read “Allahu Akbar.” The Statue of Liberty was pictured wearing a burka and holding a star and crescent, and Ground Zero in New York was portrayed as place where  “Islamic victories” were celebrated.

Most voters never saw the ads, nor were they intended to. The organization that produced them is a far-right “social welfare” non-profit called Secure America Now. It used information obtained from Facebook and Google to carefully target these messages, sending them only to the voters in swing states who were most likely to be receptive to them.

And new tax documents obtained by OpenSecrets show that the money fueling the group came mostly from just three donors, including the secretive multimillionaire donor Robert Mercer….

Mercer has become a household name not only for his political spending in recent years or his peculiar interests — such as part-timing as a New Mexico police officer or funding stockpiles of urine in the Oregon mountains — but also for bankrolling the alt-right and the data firm Cambridge Analytica, both of which helped Trump clutch victory in 2016.

As OpenSecrets reported last month, SAN received another $2 million from the 45Committee, another pro-Trump dark money group, which is itself partly funded by other dark money groups.

These ads “were viewed millions of times on Facebook and Google,” according to Bloomberg. Reports also assert that Facebook used Secure America Now to test new technology, “sending out 12 different versions of the video to see which was the most popular.”

The ads were written to minimize the likelihood that the IRS would rule them campaign expenditures. They made no mention of a candidate. (Of course, Trump’s anti-Muslim bias and his constant insistence that Muslims entering the country posed a danger is a less than subtle clue to the intent of the ad campaign.) Trump had called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”  and had referred to Syrian refugees as possibly “one of the great Trojan horses.”

Evidently, for people like Mercer, and companies like Facebook and Google (what happened to “Don’t be evil”?), playing on the fears and exploiting the bigotries of susceptible voters is just another campaign tactic. And if you can do that on the “down low,” so much the better.

The Oldest Bigotry

Mireille Knoll believed that Paris was her city. As an article in the New York Times recounted,

She believed this despite the fact that it was also the city where, when she was 9 years old, the police rounded up 13,000 of the city’s Jews, 4,000 of them children, and crammed them into Vélodrome d’Hiver, a cycling stadium, before shipping them to their deaths at Auschwitz. Ms. Knoll narrowly escaped this largest French deportation of Jews during the Holocaust and fled to Portugal with her mother.

After the war, she married a man who had survived Auschwitz. She returned to her native land where she built a home and raised a family. French to her core, she stayed in Paris even as her grandchildren moved to Israel.

Last week, Ms. Knoll was stabbed eleven times, and her apartment was set on fire. French authorities have confirmed that the motive was anti-semitism. She wasn’t the first in her neighborhood, either. In another incident found to have been motivated by anti-semitism, almost exactly a year ago, a 65-year-old Jewish widow named Sarah Halimi was murdered by her neighbor, 27-year-old Kobili Traoré.

The truth of the matter is that Jews have made handy targets throughout history, and the assaults have come from all directions, and in all countries.

Anti-Semitism, like other bigotries, ebbs and flows; right now, with the global growth of explicit white nationalism, it is on the rise.The Guardian has reported that such incidents hit an all-time high in the UK last year. Here in the U.S., the Anti-Defamation League recently catalogued 1,986 occurrences in its 2017 Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, up from 1,267 in 2016. That made it the highest single-year increase since the organization released its first audit in 1979.

Most observers attribute America’s increase in hate crimes to a toxic political environment that has increased tribal animosities and sparked bigotries of all kinds. Donald Trump–whose election was substantially attributable to what polite researchers call “racial resentment”–regularly stokes the stereotypes and conspiracy theories that give rise to those resentments.

Trump regularly recycles far-right propaganda. Recently he tweeted out an anti-immigrant message that cited a group known for promoting pieces authored by anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers: the ambiguously-named Center for Immigration Studies. The organization was founded by John Tanton, a Michigan ophthalmologist whose racist beliefs

stirred him to create a network of organizations with a simple agenda: heavily restricting the immigration levels to the United States in order to maintain a white majority. As Tanton himself wrote in 1993, “I’ve come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.”

Trump and his supporters have waged unremitting war against “political correctness”–their term for the social norms that deter people from engaging in public expressions of bigotry. Trump himself exhibits–daily–the sorts of attitudes and behaviors that decent people teach their children to avoid.

Is it any wonder that unhappy and unpleasant people look at this President and his supporters and see permission to act out their most despicable biases?

One of the reasons so many Jews support organizations working for equal rights and social justice is that we have learned from our history. Jews and other minorities are only safe in open and inclusive societies–societies where all citizens are equal before the law, in legal systems where your “tribe” is legally irrelevant.

Of course, it’s not just members of groups that have historically been targets. Trump’s efforts to subvert the foundational American principle of civic equality doesn’t just threaten minorities. It threatens us all.

It’s Going To Get Uglier

Last weekend, my husband and I attended the Phoenix Theatre’s presentation of Sweat, a prize-winning play based upon an episode of union-busting and outsourcing that took place some years ago in Reading, Pennsylvania. As with all Phoenix productions, the acting was superb, and the set evocative. But it was the play’s message that really resonated.

As workers in the local factories lost their jobs, social bonds frayed. Self-esteem suffered. Longstanding interracial friendships surrendered to suspicions that promotions had been awarded on the basis of “diversity” rather than merit. As with all powerful art, the play illuminated a human truth: in times of economic and/or social uncertainty–especially when  livelihoods are threatened– people turn on each other.

Political scientists have varying explanations for the election of Donald Trump, but those explanations all include, to varying degrees, economic insecurity and racial resentment. A significant number of Americans are struggling to put food on the table. Automation is threatening the jobs of many others. The pace of social and technological change can seem dizzying. And rather than working to tackle these and other problems, the President and his henchmen are telling us to blame the Other: immigrants, Muslims, minorities.

A recent headline from the Guardian tells us that anti-Semitic incidents soared in 2017.

Antisemitic incidents in the US surged 57% in 2017, the Anti-Defamation League said on Tuesday, the largest year-on-year increase since the Jewish civil rights group began collecting data in 1979.

Close to 2,000 cases of harassment, vandalism and physical assault were recorded,

Another report tells us that we are in danger of reversing the civil rights advances of the last fifty years.

Civil rights gains of the past half-century have stalled or in some areas gone into reverse, according to a report marking the 50th anniversary of the landmark Kerner Commission.

Child poverty has increased, schools have become resegregated and white supremacists are becoming emboldened and more violent, the study says…..

Fred Harris, the last surviving member of the Kerner Commission, told Tuesday’s conference at George Washington University: “We made progress on virtually every aspect of race and poverty for nearly a decade after the Kerner report and then that progress slowed, then stopped and in many ways was reversed, so that today racial and ethnic discrimination is again worsening. We are resegregating our cities and our schools, condemning millions of kids to inferior education and taking away their real possibility of getting out of poverty.”

Harris, a former Democratic senator from Oklahoma and co-editor of the new report, added: “There are millions more poor people today than there were then. There’s greater child poverty; poverty’s harder to get out of. More poor people are in deep poverty than was true 50 years ago and income inequality is worse now and worsening.”

Last week, the Supreme Court heard a case that is very likely to eviscerate public-sector unions–the culmination of a decades-long, largely successful effort by the Koch brothers and their allies in the GOP to destroy workers’ ability to bargain. It is an effort that has gone hand-in-hand with their consistent and very effective attack on government programs that help needy Americans.

As Sweat vividly illustrated, poverty and powerlessness beget bigotry and social discord.

If voters don’t turn this country around in November, America will illustrate something else–Hobbes’ description of life outside society: solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, It’s Disheartening. But It’s True.

We’re getting used to seeing headlines like this recent one in the Washington Post: “Hate in America is On the Rise.” According to the lede,

A NEW FBI report on hate crimes tells a sobering story. For the second year in a row, police departments across the country reported a rise in the number of crimes motivated by bias.

A statistical breakdown suggests that nearly 60  percent of these crimes were motivated by racial bias, with African Americans targeted in about half of those.  Over 20 percent were expressions of religious animosity; more than half of those attacks were aimed at Jews, with another quarter targeting Muslims. (There has been a sharp rise in crimes against Muslims and people of Arab descent.)

Sociologists and psychiatrists can offer informed analyses of the social conditions that cause people harboring bigoted attitudes to “act out.” But it isn’t much of a stretch to attribute a significant portion of this troubling spike in hate crimes to a President who traffics in racial and religious stereotypes.

In fact, Trump’s victory poses a chicken-and-egg conundrum: did rising tribalism and bigotry lead to his election? Or did he win by nurturing and exploiting that bigotry?

The answer, of course, is both.

In the Atlantic, Adam Serwer has provided a compelling analysis of the essential nature of Trump’s appeal. He began that analysis by revisiting David Duke’s gubernatorial campaign in Louisiana. Then, as now, the Chattering Classes attributed Duke’s appeal to economic “distress.” Then–as now–the data simply didn’t support that explanation.

Duke’s strong showing, however, wasn’t powered merely by poor or working-class whites—and the poorest demographic in the state, black voters, backed Johnston. Duke “clobbered Johnston in white working-class districts, ran even with him in predominantly white middle-class suburbs, and lost only because black Louisianans, representing one-quarter of the electorate, voted against him in overwhelming numbers,” The Washington Post reported in 1990. Duke picked up nearly 60 percent of the white vote. Faced with Duke’s popularity among whites of all income levels, the press framed his strong showing largely as the result of the economic suffering of the white working classes. Louisiana had “one of the least-educated electorates in the nation; and a large working class that has suffered through a long recession,” The Post stated.

Duke’s position as a leader of the KKK was explained away by Louisiana voters, who blamed the media for “making Duke seem racist.”

The economic explanation carried the day: Duke was a freak creature of the bayou who had managed to tap into the frustrations of a struggling sector of the Louisiana electorate with an abnormally high tolerance for racist messaging.

Right.

Fast forward to 2016, and the Trump campaign. As Serwer writes

During the final few weeks of the campaign, I asked dozens of Trump supporters about their candidate’s remarks regarding Muslims and people of color. I wanted to understand how these average Republicans—those who would never read the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer or go to a Klan rally at a Confederate statue—had nevertheless embraced someone who demonized religious and ethnic minorities. What I found was that Trump embodied his supporters’ most profound beliefs—combining an insistence that discriminatory policies were necessary with vehement denials that his policies would discriminate and absolute outrage that the question would even be asked.

It was not just Trump’s supporters who were in denial about what they were voting for, but Americans across the political spectrum, who, as had been the case with those who had backed Duke, searched desperately for any alternative explanation—outsourcing, anti-Washington anger, economic anxiety—to the one staring them in the face. The frequent postelection media expeditions to Trump country to see whether the fever has broken, or whether Trump’s most ardent supporters have changed their minds, are a direct outgrowth of this mistake. These supporters will not change their minds, because this is what they always wanted: a president who embodies the rage they feel toward those they hate and fear, while reassuring them that that rage is nothing to be ashamed of. (emphasis mine)

Serwer notes the “specific dissonance” of Trumpism—people advocating for cruelly discriminatory policies while denying–undoubtedly even to themselves–that there is any racial animus involved. He concludes that without the racism of so substantial a number of white voters, Trump simply could not have won.

This  conclusion is supported by virtually all of the data that has emerged since the election.

Serwer also answers a question that has consumed people of good will, as they watch the escalating disaster that is the Trump Administration: when will his supporters realize how destructive his Presidency is? Why hasn’t his abandonment of virtually all of his campaign promises awakened them?

Answer: because the promises he’s kept are the ones that matter to them.

..his ban on travelers from Muslim-majority countries; the unleashing of immigration-enforcement agencies against anyone in the country illegally regardless of whether he poses a danger; an attempt to cut legal immigration in half; and an abdication of the Justice Department’s constitutional responsibility to protect black Americans from corrupt or abusive police, discriminatory financial practices, and voter suppression. In his own stumbling manner, Trump has pursued the race-based agenda promoted during his campaign.

Serwer’s conclusion? So long as Trump promotes the social and political hegemony of white Christians, his supporters won’t abandon him.

There is much more in the article, and it is definitely worth reading in its entirety.

Blood Libel Redux

The term “blood libel” was coined to describe a centuries-old false allegation that Jews murder Christian children to use their blood in the baking of Passover matzo (unleavened bread). Blood libels were invented and used to inflame hatred of Jews, and often led to mob violence and pogroms, many of which decimated entire Jewish communities.

Blood libels are a tactic beloved by–but not limited to–anti-Semites. If you want to arouse public passions against any group you detest, such libels–updated for use in a (slightly) more  advanced age– remain useful mechanisms. (Think of all those accusations about black men “deflowering” Southern white women.)

It’s just so easy in the age of the Internet. Find an accusation you like, or a “fact” you can use to support the argument you want to make, and just cut, paste and forward.

And as Ed Brayton documents, elected officials aren’t above employing these tactics.

Kris Kobach, a first-class bigot and liar who chairs Trump’s voter fraud commission, also writes a column for Breitbart.com. Well, he kinda writes it. What he actually does, as Media Matters documents, is cut and paste from chain emails and racists to justify lying about immigrants and crime.
Brayton quotes from Kobach’s recent column, in which he claims that 75 percent of the people on most wanted lists in Los Angeles, Phoenix and Albuquerque are illegal aliens, and that 53 percent of burglaries investigated in California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas are committed by illegal aliens.
Kobach cites two sources for these claims: one is the INS/FBI Statistical Report on Undocumented Immigrants.” and the other is from a piece by “Peter B. Gemma” for the ConstitutionParty.com. The INS ceased to exist in 2003, after the Department of Homeland Security was created, and Gemma is known as a racist who has worked for the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens and has been a “part of the American Holocaust denial movement.”
Other manifestations of this sort of targeted dishonesty are less blatant, but they still serve bigotries aimed at disfavored groups. The Gainesville Times recently referred to one of them as “zombies that won’t die.”

A staple of horror movies popular around Halloween is the ubiquitous “monster that won’t die.” Be they zombies, Dracula, Freddy Krueger, killers in hockey masks or Godzilla, the demons of our imagination never succumb to mortal fate, as least as long as another sequel is in the offing.

Sometimes, bad ideas by politicians stalk the innocent wearing the same ghoulish pallor of the undead, springing back to life whenever we think the coast is clear. One such Walking Dead issue is a religious liberty proposal that some think we can’t live with and others believe we can’t live without, and waits in the bushes for another victim.

The Georgia legislature passed such a law in 2016, stating no individual or business would be forced to cater to the needs of others if doing so clashed with their religious beliefs. Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed it, much to the chagrin of social conservatives, over fears it would make the state appear unwelcoming to other views and lifestyles, which could deter companies from locating operations and jobs here.

The editorial went on to point out that–contrary to the “zombie” arguments–Americans remain remarkably free to practice their preferred religions, no matter how incensed some may get over “Happy Holidays” greetings and the existence of laws protecting the rights of other people to their beliefs.

LGBTQ citizens aren’t attacking Christianity. (Actually, as my friends in the clergy have pointed out, pseudo “Christians” are doing a great job of that themselves…) Black men aren’t deflowering white women (okay, so maybe Bill Cosby–but so are Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump.) Jews aren’t using the blood of Christian children to make matzo. (If you’ve ever eaten matzo, you’d know it couldn’t contain  liquid of any kind or it wouldn’t be so constipating…)

A central premise of the American legal system is that we treat citizens as individuals, not as members of a group. People who embrace blood libels aren’t just bigots, and they aren’t just ludicrously wrong. They’re unAmerican.

And that most definitely includes Kris Kobach.